ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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19. D.C. United – The U.S. Open Cup hangover wasn’t necessarily in effect … It just looked like it if you only saw the final score. United represented itself reasonably we’ll three nights after the big Open Cup triumph, but Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson had one of the weekend’s top performances as the hosts went down at RFK, 3-0.

18. Chivas USA – The Goats have been mostly competitive, at very least, through the summer and into the fall, rarely getting onto the wrong side of a major beating. Well, they found themselves on the wrong side of a bad one Sunday as the Galaxy put a 5-0 beats own on the poor Goats.

17. Toronto FC – Toronto nearly split the points at PPL Park outside Philadelphia but fell to Kleberson’s free kick goal in stoppage time.

16. FC Dallas – Schellas Hyndman’s men had ample opportunity to re-insert themselves into the playoff fight with a man-advantage for 70 minutes at Real Salt Lake. Best they could muster was a 1-1 draw on Kenny Cooper’s goal.

15. Columbus – Federico Higuain’s hip injury reduced the Crew offense to bare bones, and a 1-0 loss at home to Sporting KC likely extinguishes the last embers of hope for playoff soccer around Crew Stadium.

14. New England Revolution – A second year without playoff soccer could put young manager Jay Heaps’ job in jeopardy. It would take something spectacular now, with the Revs probably needing to win out, which means prevailing twice on the road and once at home. Tim Cahill’s header deep into stoppage time (in a 2-2 draw with New York) altered so much.

13. Chicago Fire – Sean Johnson’s nine saves helped the Fire ride out a D.C. storm and gather all three points in a win at RFK Stadium. In fact, we are probably only talking about Frank Klopas’ team as a possible post-season participant because of Johnson’s mighty effort.

12. Vancouver Whitecaps – Camilo is right back into the Golden Boot hunt, now just one off Montreal pacesetter Marco Di Vaio. Plus, the Whitecaps’ Brazilian attacker is elevating the league MPV chatter after two goals, including one absolutely sensational overhead strike for the late equalizer, in the ‘Caps 2-2 draw with Portland. Unfortunately, Martin Rennie’s team needs seven points minimum (from three matches remaining) to get into the playoffs .. and even a maximum nine might not be enough.

11. Philadelphia Union – The Union offense still has issues, but Kleberson’s dramatic free kick winner in added time against Toronto did advance the Union back into playoff position for now. Kleberson will need to do a lot more to keep his DP acquisition from being labeled a huge bust, but that’s a heck of a start, at least.

(MORE: MLS Round 30 week in review)

10. Montreal Impact – The darlings of spring and summer in MLS might still back into the 2013 playoffs, but a 1-3-2 record in league matches over the last six weeks make it hard to like the Impact’s post-season chances. They fell in Houston on Friday, 1-0.

9. Houston Dynamo – Ricardo Clark’s sensational curler was the game-winner Friday over Montreal as the Dynamo continues to tick off the results at the right time of year. The Orange is 4-1-0 in all competitions over last month.

8. San Jose Earthquakes – The Earthquakes had a week to rest up before the final, big post-season push. The opportunity is there with three matches ahead, including this week’s contest at home against Colorado, the very team the Quakes must catch (or one of them, at least, and the most vulnerable target) to get back into the ‘second season.’

7. Sporting Kansas City – This may be the most difficult team to accurately assess. Peter Vermes’ side is well positioned for the playoffs thanks to a road win Saturday at Columbus. On the other hand, the only wins lately have come against Columbus (twice), Toronto, Colorado and New England. Of that bunch, only Colorado is likely to make the playoffs.

6. Seattle Sounders – Seattle did play better in the second half … so there’s that. But you have to wonder about a team that finds itself on the business end of this kind of beating (a 5-1 loss at Colorado); is this an aberration or a symptom of something worse? And what is up with Clint Dempsey’s hamstring?

5. Colorado Rapids – Rookies Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers both elevated their cases for league Rookie of the Year. Brown (who had two goals) even pulled within realistic striking distance of the all-time rookie scoring record in MLS. It was all part of a 5-1 win over Seattle, the best result yet under second-year coach Oscar Pareja, and one that will go far to getting the Rapids into the playoffs.

4. Real Salt Lake – Credit to Jason Kreis’ team for rallying past the massive U.S. Open Cup disappointment to get a credible weekend performance. If a 1-1 draw against FC Dallas (on Alvaro Saborio’s short-handed goal) doesn’t sound like big doings around Rio Tinto, consider that the hosts were a man down for 70 minutes.

3. Portland Timbers – A point earned in Vancouver (a 2-2 draw Sunday in a wonderfully entertaining contest) kept the Timbers in acceptable playoff positioning, still within reach of something truly special for the 2013 regular season. But it did take a great day at the office from goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts (pictured above) to remain unbeaten in three years now at B.C. Place.

2. LA Galaxy – Landon Donovan’s record setting afternoon was the story of Major League Soccer’s 32nd round, but let’s not lose sight of the team’s bigger statement. A 5-0 win may need some context (it was just last-place Chivas USA, after all) but it surely serves notice that Bruce Arena’s team is serious about a three-peat bid, and has the capacity to potentially get there.

1. New York Red Bulls – Tim Cahill got off to a slow start in his New York days in terms of goal scoring. But who can deny his importance to the Red Bulls now, with one big goal after another? The Aussie international’s 97th minute header (yes, 97th minute!) gave New York the point it needed in a wild 2-2 draw with New England to make Cahill’s bunch the first, official playoff qualifier.

MLS attendance up, TV ratings lag as US mulls future

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NEW YORK (AP) Major League Soccer’s attendance is up and fan interest is booming, even if television broadcasts are far less popular and some young Americans would rather play in Europe.

[ MORE: Caleb Porter out as Portland Timbers head coach ]

MLS averaged 22,000 in attendance for the first time in its history this season, ranked among the top seven leagues in the world. The league is set to add a second Los Angeles franchise next year, announce two expansion cities next month and at some point finalize David Beckham’s long-pending Miami club.

But viewers averaged under 300,000 for nationally televised regular-season matches, fewer than the average for a New York Yankees game on their regional sports network. Several top young Americans, such as Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, have chosen to forego the MLS to play in Germany and test their mettle in a more demanding environment.

And worst of all, the United States – whose roster was filled with MLS stars – failed to qualify for next year’s World Cup, ending a streak of seven straight appearances in soccer’s showcase.

“We need to use this failure as a wakeup call for everyone associated with the sport at all levels to ensure that we have the right processes and mechanisms and development programs and leadership and governance in place to learn from this missed opportunity to ensure that it never happens again,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said this week. “Part of the maturation of becoming a soccer nation is recognizing that qualifying for the World Cup is not a birthright. It’s something you need to earn, and we are unfortunately in the company of some great soccer nations, like Italy and Holland and Ghana and Chile – Copa champions – that have also not qualified.”

MLS playoffs resume next week after the international break with the first leg of Conference Championships. Columbus – whose owners are threatening to move to Austin, Texas, in 2019 – hosts Toronto, while Houston is home against Seattle.

“MLS and soccer in the United States have made great advances in many areas. But its promoters have found that the abundance of existing legacy sports leagues that have the highest quality of athletes on the planet creates a ceiling on professional soccer in the United States,” said Marc Ganis, president of the consulting firm SportsCorp. “It has not, and perhaps never, will supplant any of the major legacy sports unless and until the quality of play and players increases significantly and the U.S. men’s team in particular is more competitive and, in fact, wins some of the major international tournaments.”

Momentum of playoff runs was interrupted because of World Cup qualifying, and the culmination of the league’s season competes for attention with the NFL and college football among the wider American sports audience.

“Long-term demographic things like CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and stuff with the NFL says maybe there is a long slow decline around some of that, but when you’re starting from where they’re starting, that’s going to take a generation,” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “We’ll grow because most of the immigration to the U.S. is from soccer-playing countries and the country is going to grow.”

Launched with 10 teams in 1996, two years after the U.S. hosted the World Cup, MLS expanded to 12 but cut back to 10 after the 2001 season. There has been steady growth since expansion started in 2004. Next year’s total will be 23, already well over the norm for a first division, and the league is planning to settle at 28.

Infrastructure could not be more different than in the early days. The league has 14 soccer specific stadiums, two more renovated for the sport and one built with both the NFL and soccer in mind. Three more soccer stadiums are under construction.

Average attendance is up 60 percent from 13,756 in 2000, boosted this year by 48,200 for Atlanta in its opening season. MLS trails only the Germany’s Bundesliga, England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Mexico’s Liga MX, the Chinese Super League and Serie A, with Italy’s first division ahead by only 22,177 to 22,106.

But that has not translated yet into big television ratings.

ESPN averaged 272,000 for 30 telecasts this regular season on ESPN and ESPN2, and Fox averaged 236,000 for 33 broadcasts on FS1 and Fox. In addition, Univision is averaging 250,000 viewers for its Spanish-language MLS telecasts.

But the Premier League attracts a larger audience, averaging 422,000 on NBC, NBCSN and CNBC, even though many matches are on weekend mornings.

“We’re not the Premier League,” Garber said, pointing out last year’s MLS Cup drew 1.4 million viewers on Fox. “The fact that we’re able to generate ratings growth across all of our partners here and in Canada, and dramatic growth in Canada, is a positive. So we actually, we and our partners, feel pretty darn good.”

Player payroll has increased as MLS keeps adding what it calls Targeted Allocation Money. While several older American players have returned to MLS from Europe, many of the teens viewed as the future of the U.S. national team have gone abroad as they emerge from the MLS youth academies, which have been mandated by the league since 2007 and produced more than 250 players with first-team MLS contracts.

Pulisic, at 19 already the leading American star, left Hershey, Pennsylvania, to sign with Borussia Dortmund at age 16, able because of his grandfather’s Croatian citizenship to play in Europe before he turned 18. McKennie left FC Dallas’ academy when he turned 18, signed with Schalke and scored in his U.S. debut this week.

“I didn’t want to become one of those guys that started in MLS and said, man, I wonder if I could have made it to Europe,” McKennie said. “I wanted to spread my wings and see what I could do over here.”

Forward Josh Sargent decided against Sporting Kansas City and is waiting until he turns 18 in February to sign with Werder Bremen.

“I think I’ve just always wanted since I was a little kid to play in Europe,” he said.

Tyler Adams, who also made his U.S. debut this week, played his first MLS game with the New York Red Bulls last year at age 17 and became a regular this season. Garber says “Tyler Adams probably is playing more minutes today for the Red Bulls than he would if he was not in Major League Soccer.”

Adams is happy but thinking ahead.

“Obviously a goal of mine is to play Champions League one day, and obviously the MLS is working its way to becoming one of the top leagues in the world,” he said. “Maybe one day I find myself in Europe. You never know.”

Sometimes big contracts only stall a career. Matt Miazga left the Red Bulls to sign with Chelsea in January 2016, saw little playing time and didn’t get in games regularly until late that autumn during a loan to the Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem.

“If your only desire is to go to Europe, there are flights leaving every hour on the hour from JFK and LAX and everywhere in between,” said retired American defender Alexi Lalas, now a Fox analyst. “But getting to a place in Europe where you are making good money, where you are playing consistently, where you are learning, where you are valued as a player and as an American player, where you are able to adapt and adjust and live in the other 22 1/2 hours that we often don’t talk about, that’s whole `nother story, and there’s not a lot of flights leaving that have that on the other end.”

With the U.S. soccer community in turmoil following the World Cup failure, some have called for MLS to guarantee playing time for young Americans.

“Our coaches universally believed that that was not the best way to ensure we had the highest-possible product quality to be able to have competitive games and to drive the growth of our fan base,” Garber said.

AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed to this report.

Bartra error emphasizes Dortmund’s latest Bundesliga woes

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Christian Pulisic sat out Friday’s 2-1 Dortmund defeat against Stuttgart. Coincidence? Perhaps.

However, the club’s struggles are apparent as Dortmund’s winless run extended to four matches and their gap from Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich could be up to nine points by the end of the weekend.

[ MORE: Chris Coleman steps down from Wales, expected to take Sunderland job ]

BVB was without several of its top talents for the match, including U.S. Men’s National Team star Pulisic and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but it’s Dortmund’s defending that continues to be the side’s biggest issue.

Stuttgart struck after five minutes when Chadrac Akolo broke the deadlock off of an embarrassing blunder by Marc Bartra and the Dortmund defense.

Bartra attempted a routine back pass to goalkeeper Roman Burki during the early moments of the match, but his ball back proved to be way too strong and deflected off of Burki and into the path of Stuttgart forward Akolo (video below).

Dortmund atoned for the former Barcelona man’s mistake just prior to halftime when Maximilian Philipp equalized, but it took just six minutes into the second stanza for Josip Brekalo to restore the Stuttgart advantage.

Moyes: Chicharito could miss two weeks with hamstring strain

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David Moyes has given Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez assurances that he’ll have the opportunity to compete for a starting role with the Hammers, but the Mexican international will have to wait a bit for a chance.

[ MORE: North London Derby takes center stage Saturday morning ]

Hernandez, 29, is currently nursing a hamstring strain, leaving his status for this weekend against Watford in doubt.

“I think everyone knows he [Chicharito] has got a hamstring injury,” Moyes said during Friday’s press conference. “It could take a week, it could take two weeks.”

Moyes didn’t mince words recently when speaking about Chicharito and other players within the squad, essentially pointing out that no player will be awarded a starting role simply because of their stardom.

Hernandez has scored four goals in 13 matches this season for West Ham, who currently sits 18th in the Premier League. The Hammers have won just two matches to start the 2017/18 campaign and sit on nine points.

Alessandro Nesta steps down with NASL side Miami FC

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Miami FC quickly put itself on the U.S. soccer map in two short seasons, and much of the club’s success can be attributed to manager Alessandro Nesta.

[ MORE: Chris Coleman steps down with Wales, expected to take Sunderland job ]

The former Serie A defender has managed the club in its first two years of existence, but Nesta’s time in South Beach is coming to an end.

Nesta revealed on Friday that he won’t be returning to the NASL club in 2018, as he prepares to fnd a “new challenge” in his managerial career.

With NASL’s future as a league very much up in the air, Nesta could be seeking a more stable position entering 2018, especially given that his name has been thrown around with several MLS jobs over the last few months.